After three seasons of coaching in a minor developmental league, Brett McLean is stepping up to the highest rung of professional hockey.
On Jan. 14, the 42-year-old Comox Valley native will be standing behind the bench of the Minnesota Wild.
The National Hockey League club, in August, named McLean an assistant coach. Along with former NHL player Darby Hendrickson, he has been tasked with coaching the forwards, and keeping an eye on neutral zone play.
“It’s been great, loving it,” McLean said Thursday from St. Paul, Minn. “We’re in day five of training camp. Lots to do in a short time, trying to get the team ready to play. It’s been a great camp so far.”
McLean will also be in charge of the power play, alongside head coach Dean Evason, who starred for the Hartford Whalers in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“I’m very thankful to be on his staff,” McLean said. “It’s an exciting time to be a member of the Minnesota Wild organization.”
The departure of veteran centres Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu gives younger forwards such as Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek a chance to fill bigger roles.
The coaching staff is also excited about Russian winger Kirill Kaprizov joining the team.
“He looks outstanding,” McLean said. “He’s been considered one of the best players, if not the best player, outside the NHL the last few years.”
Defender Jered Spurgeon is the new team captain, and goalie Cam Talbot has been added to the lineup.
“So many games in such a short period of time. There’s going to be unexpected twists and turns throughout the season, so we have to be flexible and ready for any situation on a daily basis.”
McLean spent the last three seasons as an assistant with the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League (AHL).
During a playing career that spanned nearly 20 years, the Comox-born centre skated with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers. He also played with professional club teams in Switzerland and Austria.
He has represented Canada on many occasions, including the 1998 World Junior Championships. He played with Team Canada in six Spengler Cups, winning the tournament on one occasion.
“I’m very, very lucky for a bunch of reasons, my family first and foremost,” McLean said. “I’m very proud of my career. I really had to earn it, every step along the way.”
As he translates to coaching, he finds it beneficial to have played in a variety of places, and to have experienced different cultures, coaching styles and playing styes.
“That versatility really helps me to relate to all different type of player from all different backgrounds…A coach’s job is pretty simple. You’re just trying to help and support these young men to live out their dreams.”
McLean’s wife Brenna, daughter Darian, 13, and sons Nixon, 9, and Nash, 5, still live in Iowa. They will move to St. Paul at the end of the school term in Iowa.